No one likes speeding tickets, despite their necessity as a way to enforce speed limits. They are expensive, often costing upward of $100, and usually lead to other costs, such as traffic school and increased insurance costs. Additionally, a speeding ticket can lead to points on one’s license and even having one’s license suspended.
One way to avoid having to pay a speeding ticket is to fight the ticket in court. That is the approach that an Iowa teen and his parents chose when the teen received a speeding ticket. An Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) officer issued a speeding ticket to Peyton Azten after he was caught going 85 miles per hour (mph) in a 55 mph zone. Realizing that his license could be suspended for going more than 25 mph over the speed limit, Mr. Azten chose to contest the ticket by attacking the authority of the DOT officer to issue the ticket.
The Department of Transportation in Iowa was originally only put in charge of providing tickets to commercial drivers. DOT officers were later provided the authority to also issue Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) tickets if they come across anyone who is driving while drunk or under the influence of drugs. However, officers belonging to the DOT are not authorized to issue tickets for other forms of traffic violations, such as broken taillights and speeding. Only peace officers that are a part of the Department of Public Safety are allowed to issue such tickets under Section 80.22 of the Iowa Code. This limitation is reiterated in both a 1948 Iowa Supreme Court decision and a written opinion from Iowa’s attorney general. The judge who tried Mr. Azten’s lawsuit relied on both of the aforementioned analyses of the limitations of DOT officers’ ticketing power when coming to the determination that the DOT officer who gave Mr. Azten a speeding ticket had no legal authority to issue said ticket.
Department of Transportation Continues Issuing Tickets and Faces Another Suit
Rather than appealing the court decision, the Department of Transportation has simply chosen to ignore the ramifications of the court decision and has continued to instruct its officers to issue tickets for any and all traffic violations that they come across while working. This is because the Department of Transportation insists that there is no difference in the training that its officers receive and the training received by the officers of the Department of Public Safety. However, this argument was allegedly raised in defense to Mr. Azten’s claim, and the court did not agree that the similarity in training for both forms of officers was enough to convince the court to reinterpret the applicable law from how it had been previously interpreted back in the 1940s and 1990s.
The Department of Transportation’s insistence that its officers have the authority to issue tickets to noncommercial drivers outside of OWI-related instances has led to the agency facing a new lawsuit from Iowa residents. Four Iowa residents have filed a class action lawsuit seeking an injunction to finally stop DOT officers from issuing any more tickets. They are also seeking the dismissal of all tickets that were issued illegally between August 2014 and August 2016, as well as the return of any funds spent in paying off the illegal tickets.
DOT officers handed out almost 13,000 tickets to noncommercial drivers during this two-year period. With the average Department of Transportation-issued ticket costing $150, the Department of Transportation will be looking at returning nearly $2 million dollars to people who were wrongfully issued tickets by DOT officers if the class action lawsuit is successful. However, the biggest outcome for a class action win would be the prohibition of DOT officers from issuing tickets to noncommercial drivers. Over 6,000 Iowa drivers each year will no longer have to deal with the hassle of receiving and paying off or fighting a ticket.
Given the outcome of Mr. Azten’s lawsuit against the Department of Transportation, it is likely that the lawsuit will be decided in the plaintiffs’ favor. Thus, not only will the Department of Transportation be ordered by the court to stop issuing tickets to noncommercial drivers, it will also be required to return paid ticket fees and not pursue any unpaid ticket fees. However, unlike its response to the outcome of Mr. Azten’s case, the Department of Transportation will likely appeal any granting of an injunction that would stop it from handing out tickets to noncommercial drivers, instead of just ignoring the injunction.
Dealing with a traffic ticket can be a frustrating experience, especially given the wide variety of punishments, from a hefty fee to losing one’s license, which may result from a traffic ticket. The experience can be even more frustrating and complicated if the ticket was wrongfully issued and one chooses to fight the ticket in court, which is why it is important to hire legal representation whenever fighting a ticket. You should talk to a criminal defense lawyer immediately if you have recently been given a traffic ticket and you believe that you should not have been given the ticket, or if you want to avoid facing the maximum punishment that could result from the ticket.
Authored by Kristen Johnson, LegalMatch Legal Writer